Life and the Law in the Era of Data-Driven Agency
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Life and the Law in the Era of Data-Driven Agency

Edited by Mireille Hildebrandt and Kieron O’Hara

This ground-breaking and timely book explores how big data, artificial intelligence and algorithms are creating new types of agency, and the impact that this is having on our lives and the rule of law. Addressing the issues in a thoughtful, cross-disciplinary manner, leading scholars in law, philosophy, computer science and politics examine the ways in which data-driven agency is transforming democratic practices and the meaning of individual choice.
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Chapter 8: Do digital technologies put democracy in jeopardy?

Gerard de Vries

Abstract

This chapter discusses the threat digital technologies might pose to democracy by shifting the focus to the question on which points, and why, democracy might be vulnerable to digital technologies. Two conceptions of democracy are considered: a minimalistic one, which defines democracy as the form of government in which the power resides in the people and is exercised by them either directly or by means of elected representatives; and a relationist one, defended by Montesquieu and Dewey, which defines democracy by the way power is exercised under the rule of law. Although digital technologies may put society in disarray, under the minimalistic definition, democracy is found to be not at risk. However, for disregarding the conditions under which democracy can continue to function properly, the minimal conception is found to suffer from ‘the fallacy of misplaced concreteness’. In contrast, the Montesquieu/Dewey conception allows to identify several vulnerabilities – both on the level of electoral law and the electoral system, and on the level of the way ‘public interest’ is organized – which, if not properly addressed, may annihilate the liberty achieved by the rule of law. Some policy-options for managing these vulnerabilities are suggested.

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